Newcastle Falcons 18 Northampton Saints 10: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
When Saints gritted their teeth to get the job done at Welford Road a few weeks ago, you just had the sense that they were gearing up for something special.
No, it wasn't the most convincing of derby-day wins as Chris Boyd's side were very much clinging on at the end.
But they stayed in the fight and struck to their task, eventually earning what appeared at the time to be a hugely important away win.
Going into the following weekend, which they had off due to not being in Europe, Saints had it all to play for.
They had time to refresh and re-energise ahead of the home clash with Gloucester.
But whatever they did during the two weeks between games clearly hasn't worked.
Because just a couple of weeks later, their Gallagher Premiership play-off dream is all but over - and with something of a whimper.
That is not to say they didn't put the effort in, especially against Newcastle Falcons on Monday night.
But they have been nowhere near good enough against two teams who were sitting in the bottom three.
Saints have had trouble against sides in the lower reaches for some time now, losing games they feel they should be winning.
And that old habit has cropped up again, putting an end to their play-off bid.
It is so disappointing for all involved as there was a genuine belief that Saints could set themselves up very nicely for the final few games.
They were preparing to welcome crowds back to Franklin's Gardens in the upcoming encounters with Wasps and Exeter, and they wanted to do so with something to play for.
But it has all unravelled so badly, and so surprisingly.
The Gloucester game was an absolute shocker, one in which the penalty count against Saints was alarmingly high.
And that didn't change at Kingston Park as referee Matthew Carley punished Saints over and over again.
And, just as in the Gloucester game, Saints shot themselves in the foot more than once.
They twice took the lead, only to be pegged back almost immediately.
They missed touch from a penalty after scoring their only try of the game, and Newcastle pounced, never looking back as they sparked celebrations in the stands.
The few hardy Saints souls who had headed to the game were left bemused as their team completely fell out of the game.
After going 10-3 up, there was little else to shout about.
And to reiterate, this will really hurt those of a Saints persuasion.
Many onlookers may feel the team would have struggled in the play-offs anyway, given the calibre of the likely opposition.
But to not get there, and to not even go close as now seems likely, provides a hollow feeling.
Saints have got to find a way of becoming a consistent side, one which doesn't keep taking steps forward only to take a couple back straight after.
It has been a frustrating, roller coaster campaign.
There is no doubt there have been improvements from how the previous one ended, and the defensive desire in recent times has been a big plus.
But there are still so many areas to work on if this club is to be part of the play-off picture next season.
How they rated...
Found himself isolated on a couple of occasions during the first half, allowing Newcastle to get over him to win penalties, and it wasn't an easy night... 5
Barely saw the ball during his time on the field as Saints struggled to get in the ascendancy, and was eventually forced off with concussion... 5.5
Tried his best to carry the fight from inside his own half on a couple of occasions but Newcastle were just able to get hold of him... 6
Wasn't really able to create anything, as hard as he tried, as Newcastle were wise to his intentions... 5
Looked sharp when he was able to get hold of the ball but one knock-on close to his own line was costly... 5.5
Provided a lovely assist for Paul Hill's try but had a tough night with the boot, missing a penalty and failing to find touch at a crucial moment... 5
Found himself in the sin bin during the first half but bounced back reasonably well, getting decent distance on his kicks and producing some tidy passes... 5.5
Tried to get over the ball to stop Newcastle building momentum and threw everything into it but with little reward... 6
Newcastle stopped the hooker having his trademark impact at the breakdown but he put in plenty of work... 6
Grabbed another try and looked strong overall but his second-half effort was to go to waste... 7
Was in the thick of the action, making carries and tackles as he frantically tried to help Saints get on the front foot... 7
Rarely underperforms and looked in decent shape here, grafting hard and getting his hands on the ball as much as he could... 6.5
Shed blood for the cause and may tackle after tackle as he tried to stem the Falcons tide during the first half... 7
LEWIS LUDLAM - CHRON STAR MAN
Saints may not have had a good night, but the co-captain couldn't have done much more to try to inspire them as his physicality was on a different level... 7.5
Like Ludlam, this man threw everything he had at Newcastle, producing yet another impressive showing for his side... 7.5
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
TOM COLLINS (for Sleightholme 52)
Tried to use his fast feet to trouble Newcastle but was never able to get the ball in dangerous field positions... 5.5
EHREN PAINTER (for Hill 57)
Saints turned to the prop for freshness but Falcons' replacements stepped it up and it was not an easy cameo... 5.5
ALEX COLES (for Ratuniyarawa 57)
Put himself about and carried well at times but it was not an easy time to come into the game as the Falcons were starting to get their mojo back... 5.5